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COVID-19 outbreak investigated at West Kelowna plant nursery

The Interior Health Authority says it is investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 involving a group of temporary foreign workers in West Kelowna.On Tuesday, Interior Health said the investigation at the agricultural business followed confirmation of COVID-19 cases among the group of workers.

It added that the workers live in on-site housing at Bylands Nurseries Ltd., and that 75 workers are involved — 63 migrant workers and 12 local workers — who are all self-isolating.

Interior Health said there were 14 positive tests for COVID-19, and that additional results are pending.

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Interior Health said a medical health officer placed an order on Bylands Nurseries Ltd., on March 27, and that the workers are to remain in quarantine on the property until the medical health officer “provides alternate direction.”

“The [medical health officer] is confident that the risk of exposure to the general public is low,” Interior Health said in a press release.

“None of the workers were in roles that interact with customers and members of this group had very minimal contact in the community.”

Interior Health said the business is closed to customers, and that the workers live in accommodations that provide space for individuals to safely self-isolate.

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“Bylands Nurseries Ltd has been fully cooperative with IH through this process,” said Interior Health, adding the cases may be linked to a group of workers who arrived in Kelowna from outside of Canada on March 12.

Interior Health added that under orders from the medical health officer, Bylands Nurseries and Garden Centre has taken measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, including enhanced cleaning of all nursery, housing, sanitary and other facilities accessed by employees, along with denying visitors access to the site.

Interior Health added that the order only applies to Bylands Nurseries Ltd., and not the Bylands Garden Centre, which is a separate business. However, it said the owner of the garden centre has also elected to voluntarily close.

Coronavirus around the world: March 31, 2020

Coronavirus around the world: March 31, 2020

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called them farm workers, stating they had been in Canada prior to recent regulations regarding temporary foreign workers.

Asked by Global News what should be done to prevent outbreaks among temporary farm workers, Henry said this was an area of deep concern.

“We’ve had these discussions at the national level,” said Henry. “As you know, this is a national program. B.C. is one of the provinces that benefits from the temporary foreign worker program on an ongoing basis. And it’s a very critical part of supporting a number of different industries — farm industry, agricultural industries — across the province.

“But there are other provinces who have the same concerns. And many of the people come in from countries in South America or Latin America into B.C. and other provinces, so we have been talking about it nationally.”

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Henry continued, saying “certainly some people have come in several months ago and they are past the risk stage. And it’s becoming more challenging for foreign workers to get in because many of the flights from places that we would normally accept foreign farm workers are not able to leave at the moment.

“But we are in ongoing discussions with our counterparts across the country and with the federal government about the need for having effective quarantine for individuals who are coming in outside it from outside the country. And in my opinion, that needs to be in a facility that is able to effectively support and care for these people.”

Henry said the affected group has very good accommodations, where they’re able to isolate effectively, “but we know that’s not the case in all places where temporary farmworkers are housed, so that is very much a concern that we’re bringing up with our federal counterparts.”